Free GP visits, scrips surprise

Free GP visits and prescriptions for children under 13 was the surprise feature of the health announcements in yesterday's Budget.

Health will be allocated $15.6 billion in 2014-15, of which $1.8 billion was ''new'' spending, demonstrating the Government's careful stewardship had paid off, Health Minister Tony Ryall said. However, $412 million of the ''new'' money is from cuts to the sector.

Areas boosted include support for the disabled, home-based services, elective surgery, cancer treatment, colonoscopy funding, medical education and health and nutrition promotion.

The Green Party released a statement yesterday claiming health spending would be cut in real terms by $1.8 billion over three years.

Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague told the Otago Daily Times it was unclear where cuts would be made, but they would be significant.

He predicted increased user-pays charges in primary health care.

''Those people [needing services getting more funding] will get benefits, but there will be very substantial erosion of services everywhere else to pay for it.''

Mr Hague said the Budget was further evidence the Government was not tackling the obesity epidemic, which he said did not surprise him, given Mr Ryall's approach to the problem.

The senior doctors' union praised the free doctor visits for children, but criticised the Government for ignoring the financial struggle of health boards.

Public hospitals would start the next financial year short by $98 million, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said.

''Overall, the health sector - which includes more than public hospitals - will be short of $224 million in the coming year.

''We know from our discussions with DHBs around the country, and from anecdotal evidence, that DHBs are struggling to manage their deficits and operational requirements,'' Mr Powell said.

The nurses' union labelled the Budget a disappointment for not addressing issues such as poverty, and the inadequate pay of some health workers.

New Zealand Nurses Organisation researcher and policy analyst Dr Jill Clendon said that the union supported free doctor visits for children, but hoped the funding would be sufficient to make the scheme workable.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Martin Taylor said there was little in real terms for older people in the ''clever'' election-year Budget.

Mr Taylor said the Government worked out who it had to please in election year, and awarded them accordingly.

Methodist Mission director Laura Black said the Budget contained ''mildly positive'' measures.

While the Government was increasingly willing to deal with the symptoms of poverty, it was not addressing structural problems, such as a lack of jobs and inadequate housing, she said.

Free medical visits for children under 13 was a ''great move''.

''It's good for a steady-as-she-goes Budget.''

Southern Primary Health Organisation chief executive Ian Macara said free GP visits for children under 13 was an ''excellent initiative''.

He was delighted to see more money spent on young people, which generated significant opportunities for health prevention and education.

- eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

Health
New spending (over four years).

-$1.1b for demographic growth and cost pressures.
- $90m for free GP visits and prescriptions for children under 13, starting mid-2015.
- $110m for 4000 additional elective surgery procedures.
- $96m for increased home-based support.
- $40m for exercise and nutrition programme aimed at families.
- $40m for aged care.
- $112.1m for disability support.
- $6.3m to expand cochlear implant programme.
- $4m for renal transplants.
- $32.7m for cancer treatment, including $8m for colonoscopies.
- $17.8m for postgraduate doctor training.

 

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